The Levanter

Title:                      The Levanter

Author:                 Eric Ambler

Ambler, Eric (1972, 2012). The Levanter. New York, Vintage Crime/Black Lizard

LCCN:    2012418652

PZ3.A48 Le3 2012


Date Posted:      April 29, 2015


Ever since Coffin for Dimitrios[1] through his Topkapi-d continuity (a good and admirable quarter of a century) Eric Ambler has written devious and diverting entertainments such as this one which is based in the Middle East where you’re never quite sure what is going on or about to go off—grenades in grapefruit or bombs in flight bags. Michael Howell, in spite of his Anglicized name, is a “levantine mongrel” carrying on his family business and now trying to convert his “blocked assets” into something more profitable such as ceramics or dry batteries. Until he is unwillingly involved with Salah Ghaled, key activist with the Palestine Liberation Organization who is interested in detonators for use against the Israelis and who is able to enlist his cooperation. . . up to a point. The story is told through alternating, questioning (an American journalist) and sympathetic (his mistress’) eyes and it’s a sinuous, chancy and altogether nervy affair. You’ll probably find Ambler’s Levanter the most attractive antihero who’s been around in some time.

[1] Ambler, Eric (1939, 1996). A Coffin for Dimitrios. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers

The Life of Ian Fleming

Title:                      The Life of Ian Fleming

Author:                 John Pearson

Pearson, John (1966). The Life of Ian Fleming. New York, McGraw-Hill

LCCN:    66028297

PR6056.L4 Z82 1966b

Date Updated:  October 9, 2015


The creator of James Bond cut an extraordinarily dashing figure for most of his adult life, until he was bagged in marriage at forty-four and mended some of his more ruthless ways with women. With the added figure of .007 stalking these pages, or sitting a little to the rear of Fleming, this becomes a completely absorbing biography and one that works up a great deal of admiration and affection for Fleming in the reader. Pearson quotes Fleming as regarding his novels as disguised installments in his autobiography and Pearson spends much time naming and identifying the real people and places. There is very little critical analysis, happily, a job already vaguely well done by Kingsley Amis in The James Bond Dossier[1]. Perhaps the wildest note in the book is struck when Pearson suggests that Bond’s superior, M, is possibly a stand-in for Fleming’s mother.

Long before his late fame Fleming not only mixed with very posh society, but was the intimate of celebrities such as Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward, Cyril Connolly, et al, all of whom contribute some waspishly good dialogue to these pages. His personal adventures were drawn mainly from work as a globetrotting reporter and as the personal assistant to the Chief of Naval Intelligence in London during WWII. Fleming’s last years were indeed pathetic, for his health was terribly crippled at the very moment the Bond series struck gold. Bond finally became Fleming’s Frankenstein and, Pearson states, killed him.

Some more about Fleming from Roy Berkeley[2]

In an odd building at 22A Ebury Street, London, described by Ian Fleming’s biographer John Pearson as ‘a setting rather than a home’, the young Fleming spent his first years in London.

The place wasn’t a home at all for most of its existence, having started out as a Baptist chapel (in 1830), then becoming successively a school for boys, a nightclub, and a furniture store before being turned into flats during WWII. But it was said to be haunted and the fun-loving Fleming found it irresistible. He redid the central portion with the help of ‘a lady interior decorator from Berlin.’ His bathroom was in an alcove that once held the altar. His bedroom and dining area were in the gallery. Workmen painted the windowless chapel grey, installed indirect lighting, and filled the skylight with dark-blue glass. Into the centre of this room Fleming moved a large black sofa, and in this gloomy space he kept a fire burning year-round. ‘It must have been a lonely and oppressive house,’ notes Pearson[3]. But .here Fleming pursued the obsessions so clearly manifest in his novels: womanizing, gourmandizing, and gambling. He didn’t pursue them long here. When the Blitz damaged the adjacent building (No. 20), Fleming moved to the Dorchester Hotel; it was relatively bombproof and very social besides.

Fleming was then a junior partner in a stock-brokerage firm but said he didn’t like finance, didn’t understand it, and wasn’t good at it. The idea of wealth fascinated him (many of his villains have immense wealth) and one detects a hostility mixed with envy, in Fleming/Bond, for such persons. But he had neither the skill nor the desire to acquire great wealth himself—that is, to earn money with money—and when his books brought him undreamt-of riches he was probably as surprised as anyone.

A previous occupant here had been Sir Oswald Mosley of the BUF (see Site 8). And after Fleming left, still early in the war, the building became something of an annexe to the Ebury Court Hotel (see Site 18); Yvonne Rudellat and several other women who worked there sIept here. I don’t know whether they changed the decor.

Further comments by Roy Berkeley:[4]

In Chelsea, along the Thames is Chelsea Walk. The grand Victorian building just past Cheyne Row is Carlyle Mansions, Cheyne Walk. Newly married, Ian Fleming moved into a river-view flat on the third floor (above T. S. Eliot) in 1952.

Newly married, Ian Fleming moved into a river-view flat on the third floor (above T. S. Eliot) in 1952. Fleming had known his wife for a dozen years, through many of his other love affairs. She was Lady Rothermere when she had a child by Fleming; the baby died at birth. She was pregnant again by Fleming when Lord Rothermere divorced her. This child, Caspar Fleming, also died young—of a drug overdose in his teens.

Fleming joked that he began writing novels to take his mind off e shock of marrying at the age of 44. To call the Bond books a diversion is, I think, a classic piece of disinformation, part of the Old Etonian image that Fleming affected of immediate and effortless success at anything he touched. John Pearson observes in The Life of Ian Fleming that Fleming carefully built a network of literary people who would support his novelistic efforts when he was ready. Undoubtedly, too, the soon-to-be Anne Fleming exerted formidable pressure on the man she was marrying, to the end that he should make his mark in the field of letters and not the field of finance. (Fleming had been in journalism but primarily in the business end of it.)

In January, 1952, he and Anne were at his Jamaican retreat, her divorce imminent. Full of foreboding about the marriage, Fleming began writing Casino Royale[5]. He finished a draft in seven weeks. In his bedroom here at Carlyle Mansions he revised the manuscript, with characteristic panache using a gold-plated typewriter ordered from America. The book went into its first printing, a cautious 7,000 copies, in April, 1953. By then Fleming had returned to Jamaica for his annual retreat and had finished Live and Let Die[6]—in 12 fewer days than the first book. The characters were established by then. “M”was modelled after Admiral John Godfrey, Fleming’s wartime boss. Pearson reveals that Fleming often called his mother “M;” and that she gave young Ian the same “grudging praise” and “terrifying blame” dished out to Bond by the fictional “M.” Miss Moneypenny was based on Miss Pettigrew, secretary to Menzies. And Bond owes his name to the author of a bird book on Fleming’s breakfast table in Jamaica. Fleming had wanted a superlatively colourless name for 007 and happily appropriated this one. “The name later became so associated with adventure and excitement,” Henry A. Zieger writes in his biography of Fleming, that the ornithologist’s wife wrote to Fleming, “thanking him for using it.”

The fictional Bond is not the real Fleming, despite Fleming’s statement that with Goldfinger [7]he was writing “the next volume of my autobiography.” To John Pearson, the Bond character is “Fleming’s dream of a self that might have been—a tougher, stronger, more effective, duller, far less admirable character than the real Fleming.” Today Fleming might be described as an intelligence “wannabe.” He carried a commando knife and a teargas pen during WWII while working safely behind a desk in London, and he subsequently encouraged people to think he”d been involved wartime matters of great danger and drama. The plot of Casino, Royale, for example, came from a gambling experience that Fleming said he”d had himself—Fleming pitted against a group of Nazis. The real evening was nothing of the sort; the “Nazis” were Portuguese, the stakes were low, and Fleming played on in the almost-empty casino until he was completely cleaned out.

[1] Amis, Kingsley (1965). The James Bond Dossier. New York: New American Library. [LCCN: 65015687]

[2] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, Pp. 40-41

[3] Pearson, John (1966). The Life of Ian Fleming. New York, McGraw-Hill

[4] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, pp. 71-74

[5] Fleming, Ian (1954). Casino Royale. New York, Macmillan

[6] Fleming, Ian (1954). Live and Let Die. London: J. Cape

[7] Fleming, Ian (1981). Goldfinger. Geneva: Edito-Service


Operation Heartbreak

Title:                      Operation Heartbreak

Author:                 Alfred Duff Cooper, Viscount Norwich

Cooper, Duff (1950). Operation Heartbreak. London, Hart-Davis

LCCN:    51016763

PZ3.C78394 Op

Date Posted:      April 27, 2015


A skirmish with sentiment which records with few words and with infinite irony the story of Willie Maryngton, who accomplished only in death the two things he had persistently pursued—and consistently failed to attain—during his lifetime. Inheriting a military code which had faded fifty years ago, Willie was a few weeks too young for the first war, a little too old for active service in his regiment with the second war. Living entirely within his club and his regiment, he acquitted himself with credit but without distinction, was thrown over by his first girl, and then fell in love with Felicity, erratic in her affections, sometimes wanton, sometimes distant. And as the years of gentle rebuff break his spirit, he dies of pneumonia, and it is his body which is used for a military strategy of great importance—bearing with it the letter of identification from Felicity with the latterday acknowledgement of her love… A profile in modest failure which is disciplined in its artistry and quite touching.

[1] Kirkus Review (February 23, 1951) downloaded April 27, 2015

Historical Dictionary of Ian Fleming’s World of Intelligence

Title:                      Historical Dictionary of Ian Fleming’s World of Intelligence

Author:                 Nigel West

West, Nigel (2009). Historical Dictionary of Ian Fleming’s World of Intelligence: Fact and Fiction. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press

LCCN:    2009011491

PR6056.L4 Z89 2009


Date Updated:  April 23, 2015

In 2013 I did a tour in Britain of Ian Fleming key locations, including one of the houses in which he lived and one of the pubs in which he did a lot of writing. The tour was led by Nigel West, and he has always seemed on point and tenacious for accuracy in his writing. I have listed many of his books in my Intelligence Blog.

The Historical Dictionary of Ian Fleming’s World of Intelligence includes hundreds of dictionary entries on actual cases of espionage, real-life spies, MI5, SIS, CIA, and KGB, as well as on the short stories and novels that define one of the most extraordinary fictional characters of all time.

Twelve novels and nine short stories define one of the most extraordinary fictional characters of all time, creating the basis for the most successful movie series in cinematographic history, watched by more than half the world’s population. The single person probably more responsible than any other for glamorizing the murky world of espionage is Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, who himself lived a remarkable double life of spy and writer. Everyone has an opinion on why 007 became so successful, but one possible explanation is the ingenious formula of fact, fiction, and sheer fantasy. Certainly the author drew on friends and places he knew well to provide the backdrop for his drama, but what proportion of his output is authentic, and what comes directly from the author’s imagination?

These questions and more are examined in the Historical Dictionary of Ian Fleming’s James Bond. This is done through a chronology, an introduction, a bibliography, and hundreds of cross-referenced dictionary entries on actual cases of espionage, real-life spies, MI5, SIS, CIA, KGB, and others. It also contains entries on Ian Fleming’s novels and short stories, family and friends, his employers and colleagues, and other notable characters.

Nigel West is currently the European Editor of the International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence and teaches the history of postwar intelligence at the Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies in Alexandria, VA. He is the author of many books, including the Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence, Historical Dictionary of International Intelligence, Historical Dictionary of Cold War Counterintelligence, and Historical Dictionary of Sexspionage. In October 2003 he was awarded the U.S. Association of Former Intelligence Officers’ first Lifetime Literature Achievement Award.

Nigel West examines the fascinating double life of spy and writer Ian Fleming, who will forever be known for creating James Bond, one of the most intriguing fictional spies in modern history—as well as the most lucrative; the Bond movies have been seen by more than half of the world’s population. The volume consists of a chronology, an introduction, a bibliography, and hundreds of cross-referenced entries on actual cases of espionage and real-life spies, along with entries on Fleming’s novels, his family and friends, his employers and colleagues, and other notable characters from his work.

A few readers note that there are mistakes in the book, notably the year of death of Hugh Gaitskell (actually January 18, 1963).

Words from Roy Berkeley about Ian Fleming[1]

In London, near Buckingham Palace and Lower Grosvenor Place is Victoria Square. Just before the tiny paved square is Victoria Square. From 1953 until 1964, when he died at age 56, Ian Fleming lived here with his wife Anne and their young son Caspar. The first of the Bond books, Casino Royale[2], was published a month after the move here from Carlyle Mansions. The last of Fleming’s Bond books, The Man with the Golden Gun, was published after his death. More than 20 million of his books sold during this time.

But, throughout these years, Fleming was often depressed, chasing an elusive happiness. Anne was witty and charmingly outrageous but essentially unsupportive (‘those dreadful Bond books,’ she called them). In this house she gave frequent dinner parties for people with possibly more literary pretensions, and certainly more literary achievements, than Fleming. He often spent those evenings hiding out at his club. ‘The marriage survived one of its rockier moments,’ Henry A. Zieger tells us in Ian Fleming: The Spy Who Came in with the Gold, ‘when Fleming came home one night to find Cyril Connolly reading page proofs of the first Bond book aloud to the assembled multitude with heavily theatrical emphasis which the guests evidently found amusing.’ Fleming’s friend Malcolm Muggeridge would occasionally be included in Anne’s gatherings and, finding them as distasteful as Fleming did, would retreat with him to what Muggeridge calls ‘a sort of private apartment at the top of the house’ where Fleming kept his ‘masculine bric-a-brac.’ Here the two would exchange Fleet Street gossip and sip highballs, writes Muggeridge, ‘like climbers taking a breather above a mountain torrent whose roar could still faintly be heard in the ravine below.’

Fleming’s was a flawed personality. Reviewers have noted the strong connection, in his books, between sex and cruelty. His attitude may have been formed at Eton; the British public school atmosphere is said to consist equally of sadism, snobbery and sodomy. For all that, Fleming seems to have grown up enthusiastically heterosexual—not always the case among fellow alumni. (He attended Sandhurst too, graduating from neither institution, although encouraging people to believe otherwise.)

Very ambitious, he was fortunately very skilled at self-promotion. He made a special effort to get into President Kennedy’s good graces and the Bond books only sold well in America after Kennedy included one in a list of books he had enjoyed. Kennedy would obviously have relished these books. Like his father he was a great admirer of arrogant phallicism. Unlike his father he was a great Anglophile.

Fleming was an extraordinary story-teller, his talent more than compensating for his ignorance on many subjects. Whenever he discussed a subject I knew anything about, he was either partially or totally wrong. Like most British writers he was abysmally ignorant about firearms (undoubtedly a consequence of Britain’s restrictive laws on firearms). He was also wildly ignorant about American speech. And I’ve been told by people close to British intelligence operations that he was no more accurate in that area. One can only admire the self-confidence that enabled Fleming to write so blithely those compellingly well-written stories that are no less compelling for being chock-full of howlers. My favourite of his short stories is ‘For Your Eyes Only’ (which has nothing to do with the film of the same name), probably because it is set in Vermont and because Bond uses a Savage 99, for years my primary deer-hunting rifle. Fleming acquired his knowledge of Vermont by visiting the Vermont home pf his friend Ivar Bryce a few miles from my own home. But Fleming knew nothing about Vermont in the late autumn, just before deer season, and seems never to have fired ( or even loaded) a Savage 99.

Fleming was driven by complicated love-hate feelings towards America. Undeniably, he felt uneasy about America’s wealth and power. In From Russia with Love[3], he has the Russians say that America’s bloated intelligence effort is ineffectual while Britain’s low-profile service is as successful as it is small—surely a distorted picture of both services. (In 1992 a former head of KGB intelligence listed the top Western intelligence services and didn’t even mention MI6. Customary disinformation? Or rare candour?)

[1] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, pp. 37-39

[2] Fleming, Ian (1954). Casino Royale. New York, Macmillan

[3] Fleming, Ian (1957, 1981). From Russia with Love. Geneva : Edito-Service

A Spy’s Lonely Path

Title:                      A Spy’s Lonely Path

Author:                 Gene Coyle

Coyle, Gene (2014). A Spy’s Lonely Path. Self Published: AuthorHouse

OCLC:    871318270

Date Posted:      April 22, 2015

Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[1]

Gene Coyle spent 14 of his 30 years with the CIA abroad working undercover. Now a professor at Indi-ana University Bloomington, he has combined experiences from his former profession to answer a long latent “literary itch!” A Spy’s Lonely Path is his fourth and most recent espionage novel.[2]

Coyle’s protagonist, Robert Hall, is a young CIA operations officer who meets Alexander Golovin, a Russian diplomat, at an arms negotiation conference in Vienna. When Hall learns Golovin is also a professor at Moscow University who has developed a sophisticated risk assessment algorithm relied on by the Russian president, Golovin becomes a potentially valuable target for recruitment. When Golovin learns Hall is CIA, the recruitment takes a surprising turn. But Hall is not the only one interested in Golovin; the Russian security service (the FSB) is monitoring him closely because of his contacts with the president and thus becomes aware of his contacts with Hall. The recruitment is complicated by Golovin’s relationship with his graduate assistant, Elizaveta Petrvicha, as his marriage fails.

Coyle lets the reader follow the recruitment by including Hall’s cables to headquarters and the responses that both encourage his efforts and reveal attempts by a headquarters superior to take undeserved credit. The operation end in a series of events engineered in part by the FSB without realizing they have endorsed the inaccurate results produced by the risk assessment algorithm, which embarrasses the president on the world stage. A Spy’s Lonely Path is both entertaining and informative-a pleasure to read.

[1] Hayden B. Peake in the Intelligencer (21, 1, Winter 2014-15, p. 136). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence. These and many other reviews and articles may be found on line at http://www.cia,gov.

[2] Gene Coyle’s previous novels are The Dream Merchant of Lisbon: The Game of Espionage (Xlibris, 2004); No Game For Amateurs: The Search for a Japanese Mole on the Eve of WWII (AuthorHouse, 2009), and Diamonds And Deceit: The Search for the Missing Romanov Dynasty Jewels (AuthorHouse 2011).

The Red Cell

Title:                      The Red Cell

Author:                 Andre Le Gallo

Le Gallo, Andre (2014). The Red Cell. Mountain Lake Press

OCLC:    882550857

  • This book is primarily an e book, Mountain Lake Press as an eBook from http:j/mauntainlakepress. cam
  • Place of publication unknown

Date Posted:      April 21, 2015

Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[1]

Andre Le Gallo’s latest novel, The Red Cell, is distinguished first by a foreword written by a CIA colleague and former deputy director of operations, Thomas Twetten, who explains Andre’s unusual credentials as a CIA case officer. Second, one of the characters in the book battles ALS, a disease Le Gallo himself knows firsthand. And third, it is an exciting story well told.

Following a thematic thread established in his two previous novels, The Caliphate and Satan’s Spy, protagonists Steve Church and his fiancée, Kella Hastings, struggle to foil Iranian Islamic terrorists. Their leader seeks revenge against Church personally, the result of previous encounters, and the United States in general, especially its economy. The story begins in Washington, DC, but soon expands to Europe and to San Francisco. Along the way, Le Gallo provides realistic descriptions of terrorists, agents, and moles seeking to accomplish their missions while pursued by a team assembled by Church and Hastings.

National Clandestine Service officers are well known for their storytelling gifts, but few are able to write espionage stories that are realistic, clever, and entertaining. Le Gallo is one of those few and has done it again with The Red Cell. It is enjoyable reading but only available in digital form from Amazon Kindle or from Mountain Lake Press at

[1] Hayden B. Peake in the Intelligencer (21, 1, Winter 2014-15, p. 136). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence. These and many other reviews and articles may be found on line at http://www.cia,gov.


Title:                      Legacy

Author:                Alan Judd

Judd, Alan (2001). Legacy. New York: Knopf

LCCN:    2002016262

PR6060.U32 L34 2003


Date Updated:  January 24, 2013

A still-serving MI6 officer [when the book was written] describes an authentic double agent case in fictional terms. Nigel West rates this as one of the Best Spy Novels written.

Rumor has it that Alan Judd served for more than 20 years in British foreign intelligence, ending up as the personal secretary of ‘C’, the head of M16. In other words, he knows the details of espionage, both British and foreign, as well as the secrets of the Western intelligence community in general, better than anyone else in the UK. He has the profound knowledge and deep understanding of the craft of intelligence to write books about spying, a background that cannot be matched by any other British or, for that matter, American writer on the subject. Every page of his Legacy testifies to the competence of its author, who has skillfully used his awareness of particular cases connected with the operations against the KGB and the GRU (Soviet military intelligence) from the end of the 1960s up to the end of the 1980s.

We are in John le Carrè territory in this Cold War spy story set in 1970s London. Charles Thoroughgood, whose name describes his character, has left the British army and joined the Secret Service as a trainee. By coincidence, a Russian acquaintance from university days shows up as a Soviet diplomat with a weakness for a particular London prostitute. Charles is taken out of his training course and told to approach his former classmate. When he does so, the Russian turns the tables on him by revealing that Charles’s own father, now deceased, was a long-standing Soviet agent.

The author clearly knows what he’s talking about, and includes valid descriptions of interesting. We also meet some quirky British characters in the best tradition of the cast of eccentrics created by le Carrè.

Judd differs from le Carrè in that he sees no more equivalence between the British and the Soviets. Whereas Le Carrè regards his characters as players in a game in which both sides observe the same rules more or less. Judd has no such scruples. He clearly sees the Brits as morally superior and the Soviets as utterly evil.

There are some surprises in this book which are not altogether surprising and the depiction of England circa 1970 seems more like the 1950s. Judd clearly brings out the upper class nature of the secret service, still the realm of public school boys and a few women from the “right” families and universities. His women are not convincing and the subject of sexual desire is handled as if it were an embarrassing social faux pas.